Reflections project


Led by the visionary Jocelyn Hyslop, a Diploma of Social Studies was established at this University in 1940, the second such program in Australia. Strongly influenced by advances in the United States, this program was focused on preparing graduates to work at the frontlines of poverty, social inequality and psychosocial vulnerability in all its contexts. Since these origins, our commitment to social justice, human wellbeing has continued. Social work students at The University of Melbourne continue to engage in vibrant, research-led learning experiences, preparing them for practice, research and leadership in diverse practice contexts.

In 2021 we celebrated 80 years of Social Work education at The University of Melbourne. As part of our celebrations the Department of Social Work and University of Melbourne Social Work Alumni Association (UMSWAA) commenced a collaborative oral history project. This project involves the collection stories, images and reports and publications of older alumni with established careers in social work.

80 years of SW

Since the launch of the project, fourteen Master of Social Work Students have undertaken project-based placements that have involved interviewing social workers who expressed an interest in sharing their career reflections with us. The project provided a field education placement opportunity in a pandemic-compromised environment for Master of Social Work students.  To date we have interviewed 32 alumni and captured their reflections in transcripts of interviews. It is anticipated that over the coming years more social workers will be interviewed to create a rich history of social work at the University of Melbourne.

An Advisory Group plays a key role in shaping the project and we thank them for their work with supervising and training our students, developing the research project and interviewing several of our alumni. The Advisory Group members are:

Reflection advisory group photo collage new

From left to right: Janet Farrow OAM, President of UMSWAA; Dr Jane Miller AM; Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott AM; Robyne Schwarz AM; Miriam Suss OAM.

Once collected, the stories and other digital items will be available through a web presence supported by the Department of Social Work.

The Research Methodology

Similar oral history projects have been undertaken both here and in other countries. A relatively recent Australian example is The Spoken Memories project commissioned by the AASW Vic Branch. Further examples of oral history interviews with eminent Australian social workers may be found here:

Professor Dorothy Scott led the development to the research design, which provides both a stable methodology for collecting accounts and a concentrated focus on UoM social work alumni. These factors auger well for both preservation of material that might otherwise be lost and provide potential for promotion of the contribution of the profession to the Australian community and beyond.

The research process includes:

1. a recorded interview of approximately 1-2 hours conducted by an MSW student or alumni

2. alumni reviewing a transcript of their interview

3. discussion with interviewer regarding transcripts and any suggestions for editing

4. agreeing to the final version of the interview to be included in a web-based repository

5. providing any images, they would like to see displayed in the digital library

6. providing a curriculum vitae and confirming their date of birth and dates of study at UoM and in other tertiary institutions.

The key questions that the social workers interviewed are being asked are:

1. What are the values and early formative experiences that have may have led interviewees to the profession?

2. What do interviewees perceive to be their significant professional contributions?

3. What are historical events and periods that influenced their professional experiences?

4. Did spiritual or religious influences have a bearing on their choice of the profession?

5. Did political beliefs influence their choice of profession?

6. What are the major life themes of interviewees? How do interviewees see the future of the profession?

7. Where applicable, what is their experience of retirement?

Benefits of the Research

The expected benefits of this research are threefold:

(1) the data collected will ensure that the experiences and images of older alumni are preserved in a digital library format for the historical record.

(2) the experience of collecting the oral histories provided a placement experience for MSW students that is needed in the pandemic comprised environment.

(3) the digital library will provide a source of data for future scholars and alumni wishing to understand the history and development of the profession or to undertake future research.

Progress to Date

We concluded our 80 Years of Social Work seminar series in November 2021 and as part of this, we were delighted to hold the Reflections on Social Work Careers: University of Melbourne Social Work Alumni 1945-2000 webinar. You can watch the video here:

Further Information

If you would like any further information about this project please contact Associate Professor Ralph Hampson at